Last year the Rigpa Sangha heard the news that Sogyal Rinpoche was entering a three-year retreat. Faced with mounting concerns about his personal behavior and forced to confront a physical illness, Rinpoche stepped down from his leadership role in Rigpa.
My reaction to the news of possible misconduct was one of concern for all involved. The people who questioned Rinpoche’s actions I respect. Their letter was thorough and specific.
After reading the letter and participating in a series of listening sessions, I was conflicted. Rinpoche brought me to a place of understanding and awareness of the dharma. At times, his teachings were transformational and I was personally and, quite literally, transformed by his words and insights. At one retreat in particular, he singled me out in the audience and spoke to me. The words he spoke went into me and made a difference in my practice and education.
After completing the Ngondro and feeling like I was on a clear path, I heard the news of misconduct. There was absolutely no question of my support for those hurt by his actions. While I do not know these people, I offer my support, care, and anything else that helps in the process.
The complicating factor, here, is the role of the teacher and the lessons in Vajrayana. Does one abandon the teacher in the face of such conflict? Are we to simply move on to the next teacher with the idea that one is bad and another is good? I really dug deeply into this question. For example, does knowing that Gandhi was abusive or the Martin Luther King Jr. had extra-marital affairs invalidate their teachings? What difficult questions!
In the midst of all of this I faced my own health crisis and the chance to rebuild my body and mind in a new way. As I went through this very personal, emotional, and physical process, I latched on to an idea. What if I carried Rinpoche to his own good health and well-being. What if I took on the role of student, embracing the idea that everyone deserves support and compassion. What if I, in returning to my own good health, took on the role of taking care of Rinpoche and all those involved in the situation. What if I carried Rinpoche on my back?
In this process I imagined literally taking Rinpoche and all those who have alleged to have been hurt in the process and place them firmly on my shoulders and back. As I worked out, changed what I ate, settled into meditation, I would have each and every person in Rinpoche’s circle carried by me. I would give to Rinpoche all the support I could muster; to all those who were or felt abused I gave my love and compassion and, as a part of my own recovery, they were buoyed by my improving health and wellbeing. That I was the person bringing them along to their own personal happiness.
So, as I rode my bike on one of my training rides, I imagined them all on my back, giving to those who needed my support all the good health I could pass on. Through my physical and mental actions I could change the script as it had been written. I would by force of will and exertion change Rinpoche’s life and trajectory. I would help rewrite the story of abuse and aid in the recovery of all individuals.
This idea, though became a cornerstone of my experience. I was motivated to work out harder, eat correctly, speak correctly, meditate correctly. That somehow through my actions everything that had happened could be made whole.
As I think about it all, I have embraced the practice of Tonglen and made it an essential part of my being. That whatever happens to me in the short or long term, that my giving and taking becomes a core of my being and that, through my actions, I can lead individuals to happiness and the causes of happiness.